#OTD in 1960 – An Irish peacekeeping force is ambushed in the Congo, causing the first overseas combat deaths of the Irish Republic.

Nine Irish peace-keeping troops die in the Niemba massacre in Congo. A total of 26 Irish troops died during the Congo deployment for which they were totally unprepared. Irish troops arrived with heavy wool uniforms and having been advised by Archbishop of Dublin Dr. McQuaid that the Congolese were “a very gentle people.” The Baluba tribesmen of the Congo quickly changed that perception.

Responding to a book published on the massacre in 2005, Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea outlined what happened.

‘The nine members of the Defence Forces who were killed in the Niemba ambush were the first members of the Defence Forces to lose their lives in battle while serving on a UN mission. This was the largest single loss of life in any one incident in the history of the Defence Forces participation in UN service. The 33rd Battalion was equipped and trained in accordance with prevailing military doctrine at the time.

On 8 November 1960 an eleven man patrol was engaged by Baluba tribesmen and they retreated into the bush, where fighting continued for some time. Nine members of the patrol were killed that day. Two members survived and were found by Irish patrols on 9 and 10 November. Eight of the nine bodies were also recovered over these two days. The ninth body was not located at the time. In the autumn of 1962 the Defence Forces learned that the location of the ninth body was known.”

Photo: The funerals of the Irish soldiers killed in the Niemba ambush while on UN duty in the Congo. The nine men killed were: Lieut. Kevin Gleeson, Sgt. H Gaynor, Cpl P Kelly, Cpl L Dougan, Pte M Farrell, Tpr T Fennel, Tpr. Anthony Browne, Pte. M McGuinn and Pte. G Killeen on 19/11/1960, Irish Photo Archive

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